The public inquiry into the tragic death of seven-year-old Maria Colwell in 1973 laid the foundations for the UK’s contemporary child protection procedures. Since that time a litany of well-documented incidents has resulted in fundamental changes to our child protection legislation, with a plethora of legislation, guidance and recommendations requiring a sophisticated and tightly managed approach to safeguarding. Yet, at the beginning of the 21st century – in the most technologically and information rich period in human history – paper records and filing cabinets are still widely used used to discharge one of education’s most fundamental duties – to safeguard its learners. And this at a time when safeguarding challenges have never been more complex nor the legal duties on staff and schools more stringent.
Furthermore, the number and range of safeguarding concerns now being handled in schools has grown exponentially to include issues such as child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, radicalisation, on-line bullying and e-safety issues. There has also been a significant increase in the number of young people experiencing complex mental health issues, with self-harm a common problem. This creates an enormous responsibility for those working in education in managing what can be extremely challenging and time-consuming issues and the evidence clearly shows that ever more time is being spent on safeguarding.
Given the extent of the safeguarding records held within educational establishments there is an increasing need to ensure that data is held securely but is at the same time accessible and shared appropriately. SCRs frequently criticise agencies for not sharing relevant information but this can be extremely difficult to achieve when that information is on paper and locked away in an office.
Throughout our policing careers we saw the tragic consequences for victims and families when safeguarding arrangements failed. Furthermore, as school governors and in our extensive work with schools we have experienced the endless paper trail that still exists in many safeguarding regimes. Given the challenges facing schools we believe that an end to end approach to safeguarding is needed to transform the current system – one that integrates governance and leadership, the recording of concerns by staff, effective case management and the secure storage and exchange of sensitive information. It is also important that disparate systems are joined up – for example, making sure that the e-safety is integrated with the management of ‘real-world’ safeguarding concerns, which is critical in identifying and assessing risk.
Key to this approach is the use of modern technologies that enable all staff in education to record their safeguarding concerns easily and securely and for safeguarding leads and senior management teams to have access to critical information when they need it. This ability to identify and track problems allows those organisations to put in place earlier interventions that could help prevent safeguarding concerns from escalating and increase the level of safety.
Surely, one of the many benefits of information technology is the ability to access data to help us understand and solve complex problems – and not just within an individual school. Getting to grips with safeguarding data across a number of schools in an area can assist leaders to benchmark their safeguarding data using a common standard. It can also enable bodies such as the local authority, academy trusts and local safeguarding children’s boards (LSCBs) to understand the full extent of the safeguarding challenge. This would enable these bodies to better plan and prioritise safeguarding and other services both within schools and across local communities.
When we visit nurseries, schools and colleges we inevitably find ourselves talking to committed and caring members of staff doing a difficult and demanding job. They are spending a lot of time of needless administration and they deserve modern systems and tools to free them up to do what they want to do – keeping children and young people safe in education and enabling them to thrive.
Which is why we conceived, designed and developed MyConcern!